Thursday, March 17, 1994

Fee Speech: a brief history of advertising

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
--Shakespeare, Othello

We are all clowns. Well, I am. We bob in the foam of history like a ping pong ball in a tidal wave. We have no idea of what's driving us.

OK, enough with the mixed metaphors.

The notion of free speech goes back to John Locke and the ancient Geeks. We assume it's a right. But that's a shockingly new assumption. There's an older assumption.

Let me spell it out for you:

New idea: Society should be a vast brainstorming session. Everybody should be free to say anything. Let millions of ideas boil. Keep the good ones. Throw the bad ones away.

Old idea: Ideas are property. Image is property. Reputation is property. The important question is not "What's the idea?" The key question is: "Whose idea is it?"

This is the reason that those who insult the King were thrown in dungeons.

The King's image is the King's property.

Insult is a form of theft. As Shakespeare noted, he who filches your good name makes you poor indeed. Logically, it follows that you can throw such a thief in a dungeon. Dueling flows from the same logic.